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Schlock Mercenary: Live long enough to get paid

There aren’t too many people who are keen on running into a room, dodging plaz fire and battle tanks armed with nothing more than a standard military rifle and some very flimsy looking power armor on a planet hundreds of light years away from Earth.  Though, it should be noted that’s only because humanity doesn’t have the means to get there just yet.  This isn’t an issue in Schlock Mercenary, written and drawn by Howard Tayler.  Over the past ten years Tayler has been constructing an elaborate picture of a possible future, filled with aliens, political conspiracies, while stressing the importance of living long enough to make sure you get paid.

After ten years of comics the plot of Schlock Mercenary has been all over the board.  The comic debuted on Monday, June 12, 2000 with the enlistment of Schlock, a carbosilicate amorph (or, a shape shifting crappy-looking pile)with a love for destruction and a gigantic plaz gun that’s a danger to himself and everyone around him, into the mercenary company Tagon’s Toughs.  The company is run by ruthless captain Tagon, whose main concern is in making money and getting out of conflicts with as little casualties as possible.

At the beginning of the comic, Tagon’s Toughs is going through some financial problems.  Namely, they’ve been bought out by a brother/sister team of entrepreneurs, who believe that having their very own mercenary company is the best way to produce, test, and market a radically new, instant-travel system known as the teraport.  This, of course, involves having Tagon’s little mercenary company accept numerous contracts for mercenary work around the galaxy, from security detail at the most recent boy band concert to diplomat protection and extraction.  If there’s money to be made and any chance that at least some of them will come out alive, Tagon’s the man for the job.

From Aug. 18 2006.  Images copyright Howard Tayler


And not all of them will come back alive.  Schlock Mercenary has a very broad cast, from officer corpsmen to the lowliest cannon fodder grunts, and sometimes, well…  death is a fantastic way to take a tired old character out of the picture, isn’t it?  There’s a lot of close calls, too, and it’s not too odd to see a character sporting a mechanical arm or gigantic robot boots (courtesy of the company’s resident mad scientist Kevyn) after a particularly gruesome mission.

Now, read back through all that.  It sounds like a particularly grim comic, doesn’t it?  Not so.  Schlock Mercenary operates as mainly a joke-a-day format within big, sprawling story arcs and most of the blood and gore is censored.  Though it seems the longer the comic goes on, the less punches it pulls when a character gets offed.  Schlock is a big-hearted sociopath who loves carnage but seems to have a deep-rooted need to save each and every one of his fellow mercenaries.  Tagon is shrewd and tactful, but not nearly as smart as someone forming the battle plans should be.  And I don’t think Tayler has introduced an artificial intelligence yet that wasn’t completely cracked in some fundamentally awful way.  There’s nothing quite like picking up a warship for the first time and finding out the AI who runs it is terminally afraid of ghosts.

The characters occasionally break the fourth wall, and there’s a lot of exposition.  Narrator boxes pepper the comic, offering insight, galactic history, poetry, or even jokes at the characters’ expense.  They might even have conversations with the narrator, though that’s rare.  Basically, it’s pretty family friendly for a comic where Tagon might totally shoot a dude in the head.

There’s really only two negative things I can say about this comic.  First, while I personally loved each of the storylines while I was reading through the archives, they didn’t have too many moments that really stuck with me.  I can recall vague events from stories scattered in the archives (I’m actually in the process of re-reading the whole shebang) but there wasn’t too much that really hit me in the gut.  There are notable exceptions to this, and I’ll leave them to you to find so you can be sufficiently blindsided when they come.

Ominous hummmmm

Second, this comic suffers from character lag.  I’m pretty easy-going about this one, especially in comics like Schlock Mercenary where there are tons of engaging characters and only so many panels a day.  There will just be times when you’ll have an overdose of a few of the characters (I think the over-powered, smug Petey was probably the most over used during a pretty big chunk of comic.  But that’s mainly because I hate Petey the most.  I’m not sure why.) and then they’ll shift off to the wings for a good long while.  If they come back at all, it’s for a grand farewell or a gruesome death, but at that point you’re pretty disconnected from them anyway.

I can’t really blame Tayler for this though, especially when he does things like introduce a character who swings from rafters with her tongue or a gigantic elephant with an attitude problem.

Aw, I liked the elephant jokes.

As for the positive, when you’re reading through a story, you’re very engaged in it.  Each assignment the Toughs pick up is different, new, and there’s a good chance someone is going to get offed.  Also, you’re not going to have to muck around with endless filler weeks in this comic.  Tayler is a machine.  I don’t think he’s missed an update.  Ever.  Comics are about four panels Monday through Saturday with full-scale, expanded Sunday editions.  There’s something there every day and it almost always enhances the plot in some way.

The characters are pretty well-rounded.  Well, at least the main cast.  Some of the grunts and new recruits sometimes get lumped into stereotypes, like “this one likes to blow things up” and “this one is hilariously dumb with a heart of gold” but that’s okay.  You shouldn’t be getting too attached to the meat shields grunts anyway.

There’s also the grand feeling that you’re just a part of the insanity going on in the galaxy.  Tagon’s Toughs isn’t the only mercenary company out there, teraport isn’t the only way to travel, and hell, other galaxies have their own problems.  You know the Toughs are going the end up in that crap before too long, but they’ve got their own problems, their own lives and their own mercenary code to live by.

Anyway, as one of the longest running comics on the web, you could do a lot worse than picking up Schlock Mercenary.  It’s extremely regular, fun and engaging.  Plus, you haven’t really been reading comics unless you’ve seen Schlock eat a dude at least once.  http://www.schlockmercenary.com

Not sure whats going on here


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